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 Within Stone Walls

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Pascale d'Artagne
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:22 pm

Father's weight slouched down the stairs, the creaking resounding as music in my ears. Yes! Now I could leave! Bally and Hylar had already left, but Javen was still slouched at the bar.
"Hey, are you going tonight?" I asked, handing him a clean cup of water. He splashed it on his face.
"Eh, naw. Didn't like the feel of it. 'Sides, had a job yesterday." He rattled a threadbare pocket, some coins jingling suspiciously. He grinned, the lines on his face expressing fatigue. I took back the now empty cup, grasping his hand to keep him from falling over.
"Hey, don't fall asleep." Bad things happened when you slept with full pockets.
"Eh, yeh, s'pose. I'll stick round til t'jobs done t'night, y'know, here the news." So word hadn't got around. Everyone thought it was business as usual. Maybe nothing bad will actually happen. I crossed me fingers, for Toski's sake.
"Zeph!" Father bellowed, following his normal routine.
I practically ran out to meet him. Almost free! "Hello!" I gasped, almost running into his greasy apron. Perhaps it's time to do laundry again. Guilt pricked my stomach as he nodded at me. I ran up the stairs. Yeah, I should do it. Even if he's averse to it. Last time, I had to practically steal his clothes to douse them quickly in a bucket of water. He just kept forgetting that things have to be washed. Reaching the landing, I burst into my room, pausing only to latch the door before undressing. Pulling out the same old worn pants and tunic, I shoved them on, quickly strapping on various blades as well. I cursed, remembering the knives I'd lost the previous night. Placing my feet carefully into my new boots, I gathered great satisfaction as the concealed knives rubbed against my legs. As an afterthought, I grabbed a cloak just before racing out of the room.
The trip downstairs, out the door, and down three blocks took less than four minutes. Discreetly pausing to catch my breath, I knocked gently on number six. Well, they didn't really have numbers, but I always called it that.
Mikel opened the door, still staring into the rooms behind him as he spoke. "You're late Girew, you'll have to hu--" His eyes widened in surprise as he turned and saw me.
I waved a hand. "Hello. Not Girew, whoever that is." I narrowed my eyes supiciously. "Wait, were you planning something?" It was not really a question. More like a demand. Seeing that in my eyes, Mikel backed away from the door.
"Might as well come in then. I'll fill you in." Sliding the bolt, I followed Mikel into his room, standing impatiently as he hastily shoved some items into a box.
"What's all that?" I asked.
"Nothing," was the response. I rolled my eyes, following him with my gaze as he opened another trunk. "Well, nothing yet," he amended, smiling slightly.
"Okay," I mumbled, feeling ashamed at my demands. It wasn't my business.
"Girew is in on the smuggling deal tonight. I was going to get some information from him." I could tell Mikel really didn't want to say it. The words fell from his mouth, landing dead on the floor.
Uncrossing my arms, I walked over to him, vibrating with excitement. "Great. Since he's not here, we can go."
His head snapped up. "What?! No! You're not going!"
"What, and you are?" I retorted. "I can take care of myself, thank you." There was no way I was letting him go alone.
"This isn't a game, Zeph!" he snapped, the anxiety in his eyes nearing on fury. "People might get hurt, or die out there. I'm not going to drag you into this."
"So I'm just supposed to sit here, while all my friends are in danger?" I yelled hotly, the words just slipping out. Aren't I already as into this as I can get?
"Yes!" He saw the rebellion in my eyes. Sighing, he pulled out a dark cloak, similar to mine, fingers fumbling with the clasp. "You have to understand. People's lives are ruined at times like this. I'm not going to let that happen to you." He ended, locking eyes with mine. I felt numb, almost defeated. The weight of shame held me to the floor, unable to move. Even after all this time, all those lessons...I still can't help... The fire rose again in my chest. I began to glare, eyes narrowing. No, that's the wrong way to do it. I relaxed, walking up to him, so close I had to lean my head to look eye to eye.
"It's okay. It's not exactly like I've got lots to lose. Why'd you teach me all these years, if I can't help?" He started to speak, but I stopped him with a finger on his lips. "It'll be fine. Besides," I smiled. "You're gonna be with me the whole time. What could happen?"
He remained somber. "A lot of things," he murmured, holding my hand by the wrist, his lips gently hovering in the air, just touching my palm. For a minute, we both stood transfixed, the mutual fear bonding us together.
He smiled reluctantly, turning to pull out several bundles from his chest. "Well, we'd better be equipped." With practiced hands, he strapped two bracers onto my forearms. He talked while buckling his own. "These will block most blades. The small ridges are the tops of knives. There's three in each." Anxiety suffused his face again, worry circling like a vulture on his brow. "So, how many blades do you have?"
"Uhh, three in each of these, two in each boot," I counted, "So eight." Guiltily, I looked up. "I lost a few, remember?"
Mikel relaxed. "Good thing I've extras. I've knives for you, but, we don't have time right now." He removed a large strip of leather from his trunk, knives studding the front of it. Swiftly, he slung one end over a shoulder, and he buckled it to his belt. The whole thing probably added six or seven blades to his repertoire. My fingers grasped the edge of his cloak, pulling the fringe forward to conceal the well worn blades.
"Ready?" I asked. He just smiled.
"What do you think?"
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:09 pm

Walking along the back alleys, my mind fazed. While I focused on following Mikel, my mind wandered, taking in the details of passersby. Not that there were too many. Striding confidently down the street, I nodded greeting to a hooded monk. He was followed by an old palace guard, on duty to look for trouble. Officially, there was a curfew in the city at midnight, but that was still at least half an hour away. Also, it was generally disregarded in the lower city. No one bothered to follow it because there weren't enough guards to enforce it. There really was no reason for it anyways. People didn't run around murdering each other. That only happened in the upper levels.
Nodding to another passing monk, I was surprised to see another one headed our direction, from further down the lane. Is there a monastary nearby? I didn't know there were so many monks here. Mikel, slinking through the shadowy fringes of the street, could hardly have failed to see the stream of monks. The procession of monks, each following the other at a fifty foot interval, was rather peculiar. Swivelling my head, I followed the monks who had already passed me. They all continued in a straight line, travelling up the road into the distance. Shrugging it off, I resumed my own walk. I could no longer clearly distinguish Mikel's form from the darkness, but I knew where we were going. The smuggling base was about seven blocks ahead, and one more to the right. To tell the truth, I have no idea what the place really looks like. My experience with it has been strictly limited to the hours of darkness.
The cobbles thunked dully under my careful steps, each one groaning under the strain of secrecy. Each sound echoed in the night, from the monks' swishing robes to the distant rattle of cart wheels. Who would be out with a cart at night? I thought idly. Abruptly halting, I narrowly missed running into Mikel.
He smiled at my surprise, holding a finger to his lips for silence. "We're almost there. Notice all those monks? It's their ritual walk tonight. We might be able to use that for cover later," he whispered quickly, the words travelling the millimeters from his mouth to my ear with leaden steps. Nodding assent, I followed him as he crept, on hands and knees, towards a line of crates. From the other side, light spilled from a few bold lanterns, accompanying the brazen voices, too rough to distinguish over the clanking of metal. Silently, we sat behind the crates, settling in, peering beyond through tiny cracks. All I saw was a few men loitering around, nothing suspicious. Hmm, Bally and the others aren't here yet. Lightning sent cold dread down my spine, numbing my trembling fingers. Something's not right...Cart wheels, metal tossed about, careless voices... These aren't the smugglers I know. They're joking around! Playing games, maybe. From my crack in the crates, I could not clearly distinguish anything other than a few blurry bodies. Hope Mikel's view is better. I gulped, shifting my weight to keep my leg from falling asleep. This isn't good.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Sun Sep 16, 2012 7:01 am

I buckled my sword and dagger to my belt, glancing over at Durand across the room as he did the same with his weapons. That finished, we were ready to head out. I sighed, not particularly wanting to hunt down a drunken kid. My fiance smirked and raised an eyebrow. Calmly striding to my side and wrapping his strong arms around my waist, he remarked, "Come now, Alys. No matter how much you might not want to do it, it needs to get done." I smiled and leaned in to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "I know, I know...I'm glad I have you with me. I'm never overly fond of doing interrogations, especially alone." I replied. I pulled myself from his embrace, and we stole through the darkness of the night hallways. We made our way out of the castle and through the city streets. The search had begun.
We jogged through the streets at a moderate pace, enough to be faster than walking, but not enough to tire us. There was no sign of the boy, but the monks were certainly seen in plenty, walking in silence, as was their ritual for this particular night." Suddenly, my ears caught the sound of raucous laughter on the wind. Durand heard it too, and we exchanged suspicious glances. "That may be him." I said under my breath. His expressions serious, he nodded. We crept through the alleys towards the loud voices, making no sound ourselves. A shadow moved in the corner of my eye, and I flashed out my dagger and stood at the ready, facing towards where I thought I had seen motion. "Show yourself." I demanded in a harsh whisper. Two figures slowly appeared, the palms of their hands showing. I relaxed, recognizing the two as Bartholomew and Balthazar. Durand grinned and exclaimed quietly, "You two! Good to see you once again, friends. What are you doing here, might I ask?" Their faces broke out into wide smiles. Balthazar stepped forward and noiselessly clapped Durand on the back, clearly glad to see his friend again after so long. "Durand, Lady Alys! Good to see you two as well. We're here on...trade business. Toski should be here somewhere, as well as Mikel." he answered. I raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Smuggling? Bally, be cautious! You know that the King is striving to control the black market, and to do that aims to get rid of any smugglers not under his reign. That means you and the rest of Mikel's crew. Who are you dealing with, and why so many people? I understand safety in numbers, but with the new law...what's going on?" Bartholomew motioned that we all come closer, and said in a whisper, "Aye, smuggling. Just the usual goods. I know how dangerous this is...but we need the money! Despite the King's law, we have these people willing to deal. How can we turn it down? The main concern now is whether or not it's a trap. You know as well as I do of the reward for any who bring in smugglers. We've heard rumors that this group is in dealings with the King, so we've come expecting the worst." I contemplated how I would respond to this information. After a moment of silent thought, I concluded, "I understand...if they are working for the King, we will need to know. Durand and I will assist you in this deal. Behind the scenes, ready in case something goes awry." Gratitude shone in the two men's eyes. Durand quietly asked, "What about the boy?" Oh, right. There's him. I thought about it, and decided that whatever this was, it was more important at the moment. "We can find him another night. This takes priority now." He nodded, accepting my reasoning. With that, we continued towards the source of the noise, ending up at the common center for smuggling. From behind the cover of a tall building, I peered at the going-ons. My eyes widened, then grew narrow. "Good Lord...this cannot be good." I mumbled.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Sun Sep 16, 2012 8:08 pm

Wiggling my toes to let out some nervous energy, I contemplated the risks of moving to a better vantage point. I couldn't see anything other than two blurry men. They could've been doing anything, from poker to laundry. A slight tap on my shoulder set off my charged nerves, and I struggled to hold back my yelp of surprise. Crouching low, Mikel motioned for me to follow. Crawling, we began edging around the perimeter, staying in the darkness behind the crates. When did these things get here? I wondered. Last time, this place was completely open, visible to the passerby, except for the protective veil of night. I also didn't know why we were moving. The general rule of thumb was stay put. Maybe he couldn't see anything either. We need to know what's going on. As strung up as I was, a few whispered words floated from ahead of us, echoing in my head louder than my thundering heart. We reached a bend in the boxes. Mikel stopped, looking back, and stood up slowly. We were deep in the shadows now, so there was little to fear from any looking our way. He nodded, reassuringly I suppose, and waited for me to come up to him. Bending down, his whispers jumped into my ear.
"Up ahead, there's some folks I know. They can help us. Balthazar and another may be here too. Just stay calm as we go around the corner. They're probably as jumpy as we are." I nodded, my chin moving an iota, barely disturbing the dead air. Together, we stepped around the corner, the last protruding crate leaning ominously to one side.
It took all my strength to not whip out a knife and block the beam of silver streaking down upon me. I hope these really are Mikel's friends.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Thu Sep 20, 2012 12:06 am

Breath caught in my chest, relief washed over me as the sword hovered an in from my neck. A tall, dark haired man, strangely familiar, stood at the other end of the blade, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Giving one darting glance over at Mikel, I saw him getting the same treatment from a woman. She quickly sheathed her sword and smiled.
"Well, it's nice to see you, Mikel," she whispered. Both of their postures relaxed, but I remained rigid. The man before me was also unmoved. "And who is this?" he directed the question at Mikel.
"Oh, Durand, this is Zeph, a friend," he spoke with an air of uncertainty.
I couldn't help but blurt out, "We've met before." He raised a brow quizzically. "I gave you a... hand kerchief you lost, at the Golden Dragon." Why am I saying this? He probably doesn't care. I saw the recognition spark in his dark eyes, but his sword was unmoving.
"Why are you here?" he asked, and I looked at Mikel for help. Vaguely, I recognized Balthazar and Bartholomew behind him and the girl. Whoa! It's that Lady I saw him talking to at the festival.
"I'm here to help," I responded. It took all my courage to look him straight in the eye.
"You should not worry so. Go back to your tavern. You can find out the news later." The words were flat. The lady and Mikel were coming closer.
Indignation flared in my chest. "I'm not here to have fun!" I yelled in a whisper. "These people are my friends! It's my job to help them!" Slightly taken aback, Durand raised an eyebrow. The Lady's hand guided his sword reluctantly back to it's sheath.
"Yes, there is danger. You should not be here," he murmured, looking at the ground. I relaxed, shoulders falling. Suddenly, Durand grabbed Mikel by the wrist. "Why are you bringing her into this? There is a price for our actions." Mikel glared, but I lost his retort in my greetings with Bally. Durand's last words floated over. "I hope you know what you're doing. I don't doubt either of your abilities. It is the guilt, the heavy feeling inside. You don't want that! Do you want to be in my position?"
Shuddering, I tried to ignore the confusing words of Durand. Smiling wryly, I looked up at Balthazar.
"So, when'd you get here?" His worn features took on a strained expression.
"Jus' bout now. Not too long." He looked concerned. "I'm not too sure about all this. Those men in there, a few are the same, but most I've never seen afore. Also-" he nodded to the crates.
I completed his thought. "Yeah, I'm greatful for the shelter, but where'd all these come from?"
Bartholomew chuckled softly, emphasizing Bally's tenseness. "Heh, it's not like we're starting a shipping industry." He rapped one crate with a knuckle. "These things are pretty empty too..." His voice drifted off.
"What?" I asked, a little too loudly, and they shot me a warning look. Okay, calm down. You can handle this. A horrified pallor blanched Bartholomew's face, as he stared, stupefied, into the crate. The lid must not've been secure, because it fell of when he touched it. The contents appeared to have him horrified. Automatically, I stepped forward, curiousity tickling my mind.
"Hey, what's in there?" I whispered, annoyed as he blocked me with his arm. It took a noticeable effort for him to drag his gaze away.
"'Ts nothin' fer ye t'see," he whispered fiercely, gently pushing me back, away from the crates. Durand came forward, and his expression quickly fell as he viewed the mysterious crate.
"Oh..." he muttered. The Lady, came forward, but he warned her off with a look. Okay, so what's so bad with the crate? There wasn't much I hadn't seen, and I doubted if the Lady was any delicate flower either. Mikel, still strangely subdued by Durand's presence- yet somehow also charged with an extra excitement- took out a knife to open another crate.
Bally, white after viewing the crate's contents, murmured softly,"Surely, you don't think..." He was silenced as he and the other guys saw what it held. Apparently, it confirmed his fears, and his gaze sank to the muddy ground. Turning in response to a soft touch on the shoulder, I warily followed the Lady away from the others, back up the alley. Despite myself, I shivered, the vibrations flowing through my whole being. Every nerve shuddered as the morbid expectations raced through me.
The Lady smiled. "I know how you feel. These things are rarely pleasant."
Without thinking, I replied, "I know. I mean, they always talk about the things they do, and, well, it seems fun to be a smuggler, or thief, or forger, and do exciting things..."
She smiled. "And yet, at the end of the day, everythings not such an adventure. It takes some getting used to." She looked uneasily at the others, poring over the contents of the mysterious boxes. "It just makes it worse, knowing they're protecting us. That there's something that evil, out there, waiting to bite us," she ended in a whisper. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I just stared bewilderedly into her eyes. Who is this? Why does she, a noble care about the lower city? She actually, cares...Why?
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Tue Oct 09, 2012 7:44 pm

I gave Durand a stern look, holding his gaze until he sighed and shook his head, giving up. A slight smirk crept onto his lips, and he said in defeat, "Or, I should just step aside and let you view the contents of this wretched crate, as you are more than capable of handling it. I apologize, Alys. I should know by now that you aren't some flower that will be torn to pieces by the wind. I must say, I had forgotten how strong-willed and stubborn you are." I smiled and nodded my thanks. Turning my ambiance serious once again, I approached the crates and peered inside, Zeph trailing behind me. I narrowed my eyes, instantly on a new level of concentration. Zeph came up beside me, and I heard her involuntary gasp. The crates contained decaying, but still somewhat freshly killed dead bodies. Adult, all of them. Most were men. I reached in and brushed aside the long, dirty hair that obscured the bloodied face of the topmost corpse in the crate before me. "Durand..." I said in a harsh whisper. I watched his face as he looked at the dead visage, and the terrible recognition flared in his eyes. He turned to Mikel and murmured, "It is Oscar, one of the leaders of the Eagle Smuggling group." Mikel's eyes widened in surprise, and he stepped to my side to see for himself. With grim silence, he analyzed the other bodies in both the crate before us, as well as several that were also near our position. Each crate held three bodies, and there were at least a dozen scattered around the area where the loud men were gathered. Mikel stopped and gripped the side of a crate, his knuckles white. "They are all from the Eagles." he said darkly. "All of them were good men, skilled in their trade and excellent fighters. How did this happen? This is supposed to be a normal smuggling deal with a new group! Why would their cargo be dead smugglers? The King's new law should be banding us all together, so why?!" His voice was raising in his anger, and I quickly placed a hand on his shoulder. "Their deaths will be mourned...but I need you to calm down, Mikel. I heard word that this "new group" may be in some sort of alliance with the King. You knew that this might have been a trap coming into it, and from this," I gestured to the crates, "it's safe to say that that's true. They are using these bodies as a message to us, as well as to incite us to attack in a rage. That would be the death of us! We must think clearly! We will have vengeance for the Eagles, but we should avoid dying ourselves in the process." I said in a calm whisper. He closed his eyes and took several slow, deep breaths. After a moment, he opened them and turned to us, a fire of determination burning in them. "As usual, you are right, Alys. All of you, observe the treacherous 'smugglers'. You see how they laugh and seem drunk? Well, look closer. Watch their eyes, which are sharp and alert, watching and waiting. Durand, Alys, you two are the experts. How should we go about this operation?" I noticed Zeph raise her eyebrows in surprise at Mikel's words. I concealed my amusement. She didn't know Durand or myself, so it's no surprise that she would be taken aback at the bold, natural-leader of Mikel asking for our advise. I met Durand's eyes, and could see the wheels of his mind turning at high speed. We were silent, and the air was thick and heavy with thought, despite the sharp coolness of the night. Durand inhaled and exhaled slowly, then began his plan softly. "Alright...so Mikel, Bartholomew, Balthazar, and myself approach the men as if we had no idea of their true cargo, prepared for an in-suspicious smuggling operation. We'll buy time with negotiations and improvise from there depending on how they move. If I'm right, they'll go along with the act, then later spring some sort of trap to kill us. Meanwhile, Alys will be moving through the back ranks, staying as quiet and unseen as possible, and dispatching them. Emphasis on the silent there." Mikel showed a moment of doubt, and Durand was quick to notice. "Don't worry, Mikel." he commented, "She's more than capable." I then chose to pose a question. "Do I kill them, or just render them unconscious?" I didn't want to kill, and if he wanted me to, I would argue against it. Thankfully, he answered quickly, "No, not at all. Just unconscious. We'll have to interrogate them afterwards." Mikel smiled grimly. "Sounds like a plan. Good skill, all of you." We were about to dispatch, but Zeph spoke up, and we all turned our attention to her. "Hey! What about me?" Durand and Mikel looked sympathetic, and I knew what they would say.
"I'm sorry, Zeph. You and I both know that you don't have enough experience for this. Please, stay here and don't move or make any noise...if you really want something to do, keep watch for anything we might have missed. Okay?" Mikel said, pity audible in his voice. Zeph looked like she was about to protest, but a sharp look from Durand silenced her. "Okay.." she grumbled, and went to sit on the ground behind a crate. I looked to my companions, and we all nodded. The men headed out into the open, greeting the smugglers, and I stealthily crept around them, unnoticed by the group of smugglers.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:50 pm

As I crept through the shadows behind the crates and men, I kept a keen eye on Durand and the group of men. They stepped into the light of the small square, and all of the eyes there instantly turned to them. I observed every move of every man, watching, waiting, for something to go amiss. A tall, broad shouldered man whom I had never seen before calmly approached Durand. Although I could only see the back side of him, he seemed to be fairly young, due to the lack of gray in his shoulder-length, raven black hair. There was a certain litheness in his long stride that reminded me of a wildcat. Hm...strange. He seems familiar, but I can't recall from where. I studied Durand's face. It was tight, but not any more than any good smuggler's would be on the first deal with a new group. The man started to speak, and his icy cold voice once again struck a familiar chord in my mind. "Greetings, friends." He started, motioning with a swing of his arms for the party to draw further into the square. They didn't move, and a chuckle emanated from the man's lips. "Shy, eh? Well, that is to be expected. Our groups have never traded before, after all. Well then, down to business. This cargo, I think you'll find it...very special indeed. Not something you can get many places, although I gather it will have a sudden rise in demand soon enough." As he spoke, I noticed most of his men quietly abandon whatever nonchalant things they had been doing and slowly edge into the rough form of a semicircle around Durand, Mikel, Bartholomew, and Balthazar. Five stayed at the outer edge of crates, clearly on guard for any unforeseen trouble. It would not take long for the men, if they were quick about it, to completely enclose them. I shifted my focus from the going-ons in the center of the square to those happening on the outer edge of the gathering, where I waited. The five men where who I would have to render unconscious. Four of them were nearest to me, and one had stalked nearer to where my party had been just minutes previously. I'll focus on these four first, then go after that one. I glided across the ground, coming silently up behind an unsuspecting man. Without a whisper, I tensed my right pointer and middle fingers, jabbing them neatly, like a dagger, into the highly sensitive pressure point in the human neck, just below the ear-lobe. The man slumped, and I took hold of his arms, quietly lifted him up and laid him on the street, concealed as I was behind a crate. We would have to take care of the bodies at a later date. Which we would, in interrogation.
One down, four to go. The remaining three nearest to me had yet to notice their missing comrade. I moved behind another man and dispatched him as I did the first with ease. As I laid the unconscious body gently on the ground behind the crates, one of the remaining two men happened to glance over. I quickly pushed as far back against the crate as I could without shifting it or making any noise. I could hear his footsteps, coming nearer, then the sound of moving cloth. Then, a second pair of footsteps, quickly advancing from the opposite direction. So, he called over his friend, too. I quickly pulled from my arsenal of knowledge a plan of attack on the approaching men. I drew my dagger and pillaged the gun, a small revolver, from the body beside me. I shifted to a more tightly crouched position, my legs tensed and ready to pounce. The men drew closer and closer, until the footsteps stopped, right before me. I waited a half-second, then sprung up, while at the same time swinging my two weapons, hitting both men in the temple, one with the butt of a dagger, the other with the butt of a revolver. They fell unconscious with shock on their faces, hands half-raised in defense. It was more difficult to pull the dead weight of two grown men over a crate silently, but I managed with little noise. I paused a moment to take a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling, sharpening my focus once again. Then, peeking over the top of the cart, I spared a glance at the proceeding of the fake trade. Mikel and the strange leader man from the other group talked, but judging from Mikel's expression, tension was high. The semicircle had closed in to fully surround my group of comrades, and they were more than well aware. Mikel and Durand both had their hands on the hilt of their swords, and Bartholomew and Balthazar shifted uncomfortably, glancing around nervously. Violence would break out soon, and if I could give Durand my special signal we had agreed upon to communicate that my job was done with removing the five men, we would have a better chance at obtaining the upper hand. I counted how many men were left: ten surrounding Durand, plus the leader and my one remaining man at the outskirts. Who I have to take care of now... I reminded myself. Just as the thought completed itself in my mind, a grunt, followed by a scream, swiftly drew my attention to where the fifth man had been. A cold point of dread blossomed in my chest as I laid eyes on the scene unfolding. I leaped up and raced towards it, taking in more details as I drew closer. Zeph had a knife in her hand, which was being suspended in the air by the fifth man's iron grip. He had a thin slice in his cheek, which dripped dark red blood down his face. Zeph, however, seemed to be in a worse state. A deep purple bruise was already forming over her right eye, and the man had her other arm twisted painfully behind her back. As I ran, I drew my sword, which soundlessly glided from the sheath. The man was scowling, and shouted out in a gruff voice, "There are mnore of them hidden! They know!" He wrenched her knife hand back behind her, holding both of her wrists with one hand, while he pulled out a piece of cloth with his free hand. He held it over her nose and mouth. I gritted my teeth as in moments, she slumped into his arms, unconscious. The man then took off running, Zeph slung over his shoulder. I chased him, and he veered sharply to the left, into the fray which had erupted in the square. He ran to a coah which had been parked in the shadows, and threw the girl's body into it roughly. No...Mikel will go mad if they take her! I started towards thee coach, but stopped at the sound of a terrorized, strangled cry, abruptly cut short. I swirled to find the source of the sound, and saw the leader of the opposing group slide his blood-stained blade from Bartholomew's chest. Pain was etched in every part of my friend's face, and I raced into the heat of the battle, my mind steely calm and set on vengeance.
Diving into the fight with my sword drawn, I dance among the remaining enemies. Their numbers had dwindled from eleven to six, three of which were felled by my Durand. A blade swung towards me now, arcing up towards my neck. I rased the familiar sword in my hand, easily parrying the wild swing. This man, tall but bulky and slow, was certainly no master swordsman. He wields it like a club... I thought with grim, numb amusement. Catching his blade along the edge of mine on his next swing, I redirected it to the ground, unbalancing him. I followed with a biting counter, and a red line split across his chest. Legs giving out, he keeled to the ground, and I moved on. Five left now. One deuling with Mikel, one with Balthazar, two facing Durand, and the leader. The dreaded leader, who had just killed my good friend...he had retreated, and was observing from beside the coach. Tearing my gaze from his evil form, I rushed to Mikel's side, and together we defeated the small, lithe man who he had been facing. Turning to him, I grabbed his arm to stop him from running to Durand. A look of confusion entered his features, and I said in a harsh whisper into his ear, "Mikel, they have Zeph. In the coach." A fire of distraught entered his already grieving eyes, and he immediately whirled and sprinted towards to coach. I started after him, but turned as a hand fell on my shoulder. To my relief, it was Durand. He and Balthazar had finished off the remaining men. I looked into his eyes, filled with sadness and grief, and took his hand, leading him at a sprint after Mikel and the coach, which was starting to move away. "They got the girl" I breathed as an explanation. He raised an eyebrow and voiced in grave surprise, "How? I thought we told her to just stay put." I sighed despite myself.
"I don't know what she was thinking, but she tried to take out one of the men on her own. And was quite loud about it." Durand nodded, understanding. We caught up to Mikel, and the three of us continued running, close behind the coach. Mikel cupped his hand around his mouth and screamed, "Stop! Give us back the girl! I say again, give us back the girl! Why are you doing this?! We should be banning together against the King! Why did you kill the Eagles, and now us?! WHY?!" his voice was cracked with a kind of desperation I had never seen in him before. The leader leaned his head out of the window of the coach, an evil sneer spread across his face.
"Yes...we killed them, and we will kill the rest of you as well, all in time! LONG LIVE THE KING!" the man exclaimed. A moment of tense silence passed, and the coach's horses were whipped, pulling it farther ahead. Durand caught Mikel by the arm, jerking the man to a stop. He whirled, eyes red and panicked, breath coming in shallow gasps. "They...they took her...Zeph...no, no, no! We...we have to save her..." He struggled against Durand, but it was no use. My fiancees eyes softened, and he took hold of Mikel's shoulders. "Friend, I know. I understand. But you can't lose hold of your composure. It is what makes you you, and what makes you a good, smart leader. Calm down. We will rescue your friend, Mikel. We will!" Mikel stood deathly still for a moment, then nodded, resigning. He gazed down the dark roach in which the coach, and Zeph, had disappeared, searching in the darkness for something which was not there. I turned and started walking back to the square. THere were many bodies to be buried, friends to be mourned, prisoners to be interrogated. And of course, I had to, at some point, find time to report to the Queen. I felt the stirrings of something much, much deeper and more dangerous than a rogue group of smugglers. But I shoved that all to the back of my mind as I approached the broken body of my old friend, Bartholomew, and I allowed a single set of tears to seep from my eyes and roll down my cheeks.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Mon Nov 26, 2012 11:06 am

Black. Thick, soupy, muddy black...perhaps with a tint of violet...
Bright splotched of red flooded my vision, evoking an involuntary shudder. My nightmares were about to begin again...
Twin swords whirled through the air, dancing to an insane rythym. Forever, forever, they kept flailing, unstoppable in this tortured void. Black...with bleeding red...which dried purple, washed up on the banks of the ocean. Each motion of the sword was like a knife through me, wracking, uncontainable pain...I wanted to yell, to stop it, but it kept going, on and on through the black.
Finally, the swords gave one last laugh, before disappearing into the distance...Slowly, the red faded, then the purple...leaving only black.

Shuddering back to reality, I reflexively sprang to my feet, colliding with a gringy looking man. Don't poke sleeping people! I silently admonished the disgusting figure. A throbbing pulse emanated from over my right eyebrow, forcing me to squint at the unfamiliar face. I don't know this man. Where am I?! Fighting to keep calm, I concentratied on my pounding headache to keep my face from registering shock. Don't give anything away. Think, think! Why are you here? Where is here? Why's this man just standing in this room one foot in front of me?
"W-" The room blurred as I belatedly registered the man's swift slap to my face.
"No questions." The statement echoed in the bare wooden room, the single phrase reverberating off the floors, but dying away in the expanse of the lofty ceiling rafters. Hmm...must be an attic.
Following my look, the man quickly thrust an extended palm into my stomach. Wincing, I fell back on the creaking floor. "No looking."
"I-" The room spun like a top as I received another jab, this time on the already formed bruise on her brow. "Gah!"
"No talking. Stay here." The man spun around, disappearing behind a solid wood door, the metal hinges creaking sorrowfully. As rusty bolts slid into place, I remained curled on the floor. What's going on? Who is that guy? He's acting like I'm his prisoner....
Stifling a gasp, I shuddered as the memories rushed back, heralding a flood of tears. Hot tears poured onto my face, and I lay clutching my knees to my chest. I-I-I failed. I tried to help, but they got me...I didn't do any good...and now I'm caught. Mikel was right. I shouldn't have gone. Warm salt crystallized on my face, sparkling in the dim, fading light. That means there's a window, a nagging curiousity broke in. However, it was crushed by a resounding roar of defeat. No, I failed. I-I tried, all that time, all that practice, and it didn't do any good. Now I'm stuck here, my dark thoughts brooded. I can't do anything now anyways, not until this headache stops.
But the window! Steeling myself, I pushed off the ground, only to fall back under the weight of hammer strokes on the roof. In a matter of seconds, all light died away as some outsider finished nailing an obstruction over the hypothetical window. No. Now I really can't do anything.
Confused, I sat up, scooting over to the wall opposite the door. Why am I so depressed? My thoughts kept running around, bumping into one another. I need to get out of here...but you failed...so?...so you should just wait....they'll come for you eventually........NO! I was not going to just sit around. Since I got myself into this mess, it's my job to get out. I don't know why the smugglers would bother kidnapping me, but I need to make my own plan.
As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I was surprised to see I still had my boots. They were smart enough to take the arm guards, and the cloak... Relief washed over me as my fingers came in contact with two sheaths. One still had a dagger. Guess they aren't experienced with hidden knives.
Leaning on the sturdy wood wall, I felt a smile pulling at my mouth. Time to start planning, I thought, yawning as fatigue washed over me. Or not, I grimaced, shifting on the smooth floor. Time to sleep.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Thu Nov 28, 2013 2:47 am

I sighed deeply, and my head sunk for the thousandth time that day into my hands. My silver-rimmed reading spectacles clanked on the mahogany desk as I sluggishly pushed them from my face to rub my pounding temples. It was late into the night, nearly a week from the incident with the false smuggling deal, and I had been at my desk for several hours.
"Well, someone seems exhausted." Durand's voice was accompanied by his heavy booted footsteps on the floor as he approached me. I wearily raised my head to glance back at him before it fell back into my hands. A half-hearted laugh died on my lips. "I suppose, though I have good reason to be." I sighed again. He stood behind where I was seated now, and he bent down and wrapped his arms around me like a scarf, resting his chin on the top of my head. I reveled in his warmth for a moment, before the situation of Zephyre's kidnapping crashed back into my mind. Softly, I continued, "I can't help but worry for that girl...Mikel's practically gone mad, he's been so useless in the search. So I've been finding out what I can about this mysterious new group, and whatever connections they may have with His Highness and his new decree. But at the moment," I motioned to the parchment on the desk before me, "a list of every member of the Tiger Smugglers who we found in the crates last week. They were all there...from Tiger himself to their most recently hired mail runner, who was barely eighteen years old. Second son of the blacksmith's. Since the King's recent law and purge of the city's smugglers, they were the only other group with more influence than Mikel's in the black market. Whatever the King is planning, he's trying to rein in the city's underground." I tilted my head back in my chair and looked at my fiance, my forehead knotted with concern. "Do you know what this is about, Durand? Do his movements with the smuggler groups have anything to do with whatever it is he's having you do outside of the city?" The shine in his eyes darkened, and he let his forehead rest against mine.
"I can't say for sure, Alys...though it's possible. But you know I can't say what it is he has me do." he murmured, almost too quietly for me to hear. I stood and hugged him tightly. "I know" I whispered, struggling for a moment to hold back tears before regaining my composure. I moved to the door, saying as I went, "I must speak to the Queen about this new group". He walked at my side down the dimly lit corridors to the Queen's private chambers.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Thu Nov 28, 2013 1:37 pm

I softly rapped a seven beat pattern on the large ornate door of the Queen's room, and waited for only a few moments in the silence that followed before it slowly swung open, admitting us into the company of the Queen. I stepped through the threshold into the well-lit room, candles gleaming from every surface. Durand closed the door quietly behind us, and we knelt before the Queen, who sat on the edge of her bed, her hands clasped on her lap. Even so late into the night, I was amazed at the picture of weary grace I beheld in her. She was poised and regal, her embroidered nightgown covered in lace and ruffles, and her red-bronze hair glowed in the candlelight. But her eyes were the most striking of her features, for in their stormy blue depths shone equal parts strength and sadness. She motioned for us to stand, and we did. "Alys, Durand." she greeted us, "As always I'm pleased to see you together. I was informed of the incident days past, and I assume you're here to inquire about this mysterious new smuggling group who committed such wretched acts as have been relayed to me. Do you have the list of the dead who were found? I will have my grievances sent to their families." I held out the parchment, which I had carried with me from my room, and she took it and gravely noted, "Quite a lot of names..."
  "Yes," I agreed quietly, "all too many names. Not a single member was spared." She sighed softly at this and folded the parchment, placing it in a drawer of her ornately carved desk.
  "The King's wickedness knows no bounds." she commented.
  "Indeed." Silence hung in the air for a long moment, a kind of quiet grieving we allowed for ourselves over the fallen. Durand cleared his throat to break it, and the Queen turned to face him. "My Queen," he started, "what is known about this new group of smugglers? Why would they kill off the Tigers, and attempt to do the same with us? We've heard rumors in the lower city that they have connections with the King in some way." She nodded, and motioned for us to follow her. We did, and she led us through a doorway in the back of her chambers. It seemed to lead into a hallway, with a thick rug running down its entire length. However, she knelt on the ground and pushed back the rug, revealing a kind of trap door. With a small key she retrieved from her gown's pocket, it opened to reveal a cracked stone stairway dimly lit by torches. I knew of this passage, and had traveled it with the Queen many times before when she needed to discuss matters out of sight of the King. Durand and I headed down ahead of her, as she called her ladies-maid to her. The woman, slightly older than myself, and devoutly loyal to the Queen, appeared and nodded. She would replace the rug after we had gone. With that, the Queen caught up to where we had stopped to wait for her, and led us further. The stairs continued for a short while before ending at yet another door, this one dark ebony, which the Queen opened with a different key. "Welcome to the War Room" she exclaimed to us as she held the door open. We stepped inside, and the door was closed and locked behind us. Durand tensed, and I placed my hand on his sword arm. "It's to keep others out, not us in." I reminded him. He relaxed, trusting in my faith in the Queen. The room we were in was very simple. Stone floors and walls, with an old wooden table at the center of the room. It seated twenty-one, with the Queen at the head. A faded map hung on the wall, portraying the city, surrounded by it's walls. Towering mountains bordered the city to the East, and the landscape dropped off in a cliff to the West. Even without the walls, the city was closed in. The map ended with the mountains and the cliff, for there were no maps within the walls of whatever lay outside the walls. The Queen sat at the head of the table, and Durand and I sat at her right and left. "Now then," she began, "the new group of smugglers. They are indeed in cahoots with the King, though not as you may expect. It is true that they are taking their orders from him, and he is using them to bring the black market under his control. But they are not common townspeople, nor are they nobles. They are not from this place." My eyes narrowed. "You can't possibly mean to say..." my sentence dropped off. The Queen nodded gravely. "I'm afraid that I do. They are from outside the city walls. Where exactly, I do not know. Even my information of what lies outside is limited." she cast a glance at Durand. "Do you know who they may be, or where they are from, Durand?" He shook his head. "I have not known anyone besides myself to be sent out of the city, and on the missions the King sends me on I have never come across anyone else who works for him." His eyes were unfocused, seeing whatever it was his nightmares were full of. I extended my hand to him across the table, and he took it, meeting my eyes gratefully. I focused back on the Queen. "My Lady, we have detained several of these mystery smugglers. Do you want me to find out what they know?" She nodded, and we rose as she stood. "Yes, and tell me of your findings. These things do not bode well. In the meantime, I pray that Mikel and his group stay safe from the King's murderous plans. It it need be, they can seek refuge here." At this, Durand rose an eyebrow. The Queen explained, "This room is not the only secret place under this palace. There are many nooks and crannies which I have managed to hide from the King." We left the room, and retreated back up the the Queen's chambers. Bidding her goodbye, Durand and I retired for the night. Once we reached my chambers, I kissed him goodnight. "In the morning, we'll find Mikel and tell him of what we've learned." He nodded, and was about to leave before he stopped, and turned back. "What is i-" my sentence cut off at his embrace. He held me tightly, as if he were afraid. "I don't want to go, Alys." His voice cracked, and I knew he wasn't talking about leaving for the night. Rage burned through me as I was reminded of the cruelty the King forced my beloved to face. I looked into his eyes, trying to send him as much love and comfort as I could through my gaze, and wiped away the tears which had fallen. "Stay with me tonight." I offered gently, and he nodded. I stayed at his side through the nightmares he dreaded whenever he closed his eyes.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Fri Nov 29, 2013 5:32 pm

Laughter, quick and cutting, burst in front of my wide, uncomprehending eyes. Slowly, I blinked, my thoughts scrambling over one another after days of isolation.  Six days ago I first awoke slumped on this dingy floor, fighting guilt with stubborn determination, I thought wryly, resisting the urge to squirm beneath my captor's amused scrutiny.  I resolved to stick it out, somehow redeem myself in captivity.
"Look up," the man commanded, his unfamiliar voice breaking my studious contemplation of the floor.  Startled into obedience, I was completely unprepared.  Somehow, I thought my kidnapper would look fierce, disturbing, perhaps even grotesque.  I was not expecting the rosy cheeks, the fastidiously combed hair, the absurdly small nose.  Although he remained unmoving at an intimidating height past six feet, I could not completely stifle the laughter which threatened to make an appearance.
"I do not recall inviting your opinion."  His clipped tones did what self-restraint could not, and I quickly became silent.  When he raised an eyebrow, I thought perhaps the smallest bit of humor glinted in the corner of his eye. "Simply because I laughed upon entering the room does not permit you to do likewise," he continued, gray eyes staring levelly into mine.  A slight twitch in his upper lip once again belied his amusement beyond the stone façade.  In most people, a sense of humor is reassuring, but the sweat I rubbed from my palms indicated no such sentiment.  
"I'm so-"
"Quiet." He cut me off with a wave of his hand.   "Tell me what you found so amusing and I will consider overlooking the issue in light of more serious matters."  
What kind of person is this?    His bearing screamed aristocrat, from the domineering presence to the unmistakable glint of gold.  I'd never met any nobles personally, and I'd never thought one would kidnap someone, but then I'd never been kidnapped before either.  I've never done a lot of stuff.  I belatedly tried to think of a reason for my earlier mirth.  I don't think he'd take it well if I said it was his looks.  Rich folks don't seem to take that too kindly.  A slight narrowing in his gaze told me my time was almost up.  Hurry, think!  Quickly, I turned my head, scanning the room.  
"Uhm, well, sir, I-" I began, unsure of how to show proper respect.
"Yes?" Impatience flared, tempered by a bit of bemusement.
Feeling my chest tighten, I took a deep breath.  "I never thought I'd die by tea pot."  The following silence involved much cringing on my part and a brooding glare on his.  
"Ha!" he broke out, the word jarring my clenched jaw.  "I like you." What? "And I think I better understand why you are here."
With that, he crooked a finger.  Mechanically, I followed him over to a newly arranged table for two, the cushioned seats, shining silver tea service, and the flickering candles mounted on gilded sticks, all of which made an appearance when I awoke ten minutes prior.
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PostSubject: Re: Within Stone Walls   Sun Dec 01, 2013 7:49 pm

 Stiff with nervous tension, I sat down on the red velvet chair with a solid thump.  The silence stretched on, kept aloft by the man's deep, even breaths.  The whole situation was so unexpected, I was not sure how to react.  The table setting  flashed over-bright , leaving my gaze little reprieve between the polished cups conspicuously bare plates,  the man's gold on green embroidery, and his fiery hair with matching beard.  Despite the man's relaxed posture, I felt that all the brightness served to augment the silent interrogation.  What can he want?  All the unknown's associated with the rich ran rampant with my overactive imagination.  His apparent willingness to sit and stare in silence evoked both relief and unease. There's so much I don't know. I needed to figure out how to respond to him, when he began with the questioning. That much was inevitable. Why else would I have been kidnapped? But I don't really know anything to tell him, whispered a disconcerting voice. Flicking up, my eyes met his for a brief instant before they fell back down to the empty plate before me. Well, there's a question that's innocent enough, I thought wryly.

With tremendous effort, I willed myself to look into his open yet imposing face. My dry lips moistened then dried again as I licked them nervously. A few more attempts at speech were no more fruitful than the first. How odd. I'm not even this nervous with strangers at the tavern. Compared to this man's relatively easy bearing, the patrons of the Golden Dragon were by far more intimidating. Even with my familiarity of them and their habits, each one had a certain trait - Javen's wizened cunning, Rotoski's unerring grace and poise, the studious glint in Hylar's eye - that sometimes left even the closest of friends on edge.

"I suppose we ought to get started," the man broke in lazily, the deliberate words calling my rag-tag thoughts to order. My eyes were automatically drawn back to his, held by some power in his voice.

"A-alright," I said, throat hoarse from the tension. He nodded. Remaining reclined in his seat, he uncrossed his legs, planting both booted feet on the floor.

"First things first. My men," So he is in charge, my thoughts broke in rudely. I suppose you don't have to look evil to be an agent of the King. "My men found you knocked out in a cart, outside a well-known lodging house in the Lower City fringe," he paused. I hesitated. Should I tell him he is wrong? It never hurt to have all of the facts straight.

"Uh, I think --"

"Wait until I am done," he commanded. With less intensity, he continued, "I think it would be best for me to finish, then you may make whatever alterations you deem appropriate. Agreed?" The question rose with an eyebrow. I nodded again. No harm in agreeing.

"Six days ago, you were taken from a parked cart of questionable identity to this room, where my men have taken care of you until I was available." He sighed, as if the short recital bored him. "So, here is the strange thing. My men say they rescued you." What?!

"But, that's absurd!" I blurted. "Sir," I added belatedly.

His chin dipped in a curt nod. "How?"

Suddenly, my nerves were back full force. There was no hint of deception in this man's manner, but I had no proof of credibility either. Quickly, I resigned myself to telling all about the smuggling deal, leaving out as many names as possible. If it really was true this man saved me, I had no reason for distrust. I don't even know his name! I realized.

"I work in the lower city. Last week some of my friends mentioned a...business deal with a new boss, someone they had not done work with before. They were all on edge." At the man's incredulous expression, I hurried to explain, "We're really distrustful, 'cause folks are always taking advantage of us lower people. Anyways, I went with my friend to the deal, 'cause one of his other friends didn't show, and we thought something had happened. When we got to the site..." I trailed off, biting my lip. How much was safe to tell? Obviously anything about Alys and Durand was off limits, but the crates... I choked, remembering the pale corpses, seeing their lifeless forms decay in front of me. Having dropped my gaze, I saw the man lean forward from the tops of my eyes, a flash of green showing where his arm reached over to raise my face.

"What is it?" he asked, words so inadequate, yet laced with unexpected tenderness, just as his hand was large and comforting with callus and dry skin one does not associate with nobility.

"There were boxes, full of corpses." I spoke haltingly, reliving the moment full of horror without the adrenaline which had been present that night to keep the chill at bay. "S-some of them we knew, my friends and I, others just by association, or not at all. We blamed those in the ring of boxes for their deaths, and when my friends went to meet them, still going through with their deal, they attacked them. I don't know what happened to any of them." The realization of my ignorance numbed me like a bucket of cold water at Midwinter. I was sure my story did not make much sense, but, I really didn't care, and the man seemed to understand well enough. At least, he had enough comprehension to frown, and find the loophole in my story with eyes of compassion.

"Were you in the fighting?"

"No. They thought something was up, so I was supposed to stay on the outside and not get involved." My memory refused to cooperate past this point, all further landmarks shrouded in fogs of black and pain. "I probably tried to take out a few of the border guards. I think I got one or two before they knocked me out. I don't know anything after that."

The man frowned intently across the table, elbows braced to support his clasped hands. "You must have been taken captive by those who attacked your friends. They will not be happy my men took their prisoner. Although, I do not know why they would take you. To put it bluntly, you were not involved in the smuggling," he smiled wearily at my astonishment. "Yes, I know that is what your friends were doing. Don't worry," he continued, "I have no interest in that. However, there is nothing to be gained by taking you. You don't happen to be a long lost princess?"

"No," I snorted.

"Then, I suppose you were taken as a hostage."

"What? Why?" Sounding childish, I felt red flare up on my cheeks. "I mean, you already said, there's no reason to take me."

"Yes, well, do your 'friends' happen to be very attached to you?" Something about his implication seemed off, but it remained like the dusty mugs on the top shelf, just out of reach.

"I suppose." At least, as much as any friends are. A sudden grin split my face. "It's not like this happens very often." I was rewarded by a guffaw of laughter.

"Hah, yes, I think that is a valid point." His eyes continued to bore into mine. "I think they must be," he said finally, leaning back in his seat. "At least one friend must be very attached for them to use you effectively."

Feeling my face heating up again, I channeled it into frustration. "Okay, I get your point. But, what are we going to do now?"

"I don't know," the man said. Suddenly, the nagging in my mind burst into an uncontrollable desire.

"What's your name?" I blurted, acutely aware of my rudeness. This man did just save me, I suppose.

"Oh, you can call me Pierre. The rest can wait."


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